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May 15, 2011

News & Features

Considering a motorcycle or scooter? Do your homework and some thinking

Special to NWautos

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Lisa Micone, an employee at Seattle Cycle Center, says an endorsement is the first step in moving from four wheels to two. But she says it's worth the effort for customers who have always wanted to make the leap to a motorcycle or scooter. (Linda Hughes / Special to NWautos)

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Seattle Cycle Center advertises one of the big reasons many people switch to scooters and motorcycles. (Linda Hughes)

Save on gas. Spend more time outside. Meet a whole new community. Whatever the goal, Lisa Micone of Seattle Cycle Center has three words for would-be scooter and motorcycle riders: Get your endorsement.

That's proof from the Washington State Department of Licensing that you've taken a riding course at a motorcycle-safety school or that you've passed the state's motorcycle knowledge and riding tests. It's illegal to ride in Washington without one. (An endorsement isn't required for riding a scooter that's below 50cc.)

"I see a lot of people leaving discouraged because they don't have the endorsement before they come in," says Micone, a longtime employee at the motorcycle accessory and scooter shop.

For those in the market for two wheels and a motor, an endorsement is just the first priority on a checklist of considerations. You'll also need safety gear. A helmet, jacket, pants, boots and gloves can run a few hundred bucks to more than $1,000.

Then you'll need to ask yourself some philosophical questions: Do you enjoy being out in our Northwest climate? Can you handle unexpected attention outside the "bubble" of a car or bus?

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It took Brittania Huston by surprise when others smiled and waved at her as she was driving to work. But she gets it. She couldn't help but grin at the sight of her seafoam-green-and-white scooter, either.

"I was getting to enjoy my city in another way that most other people are not going to experience," says Huston, of Seattle. "You get to be kind of a more celebrated member of the community when people see you -- more noticeable, not so mundane."

Here's what else she learned: Transitioning from the roomy storage of a car to the spartan compartments of her 49cc scooter meant planning each day's activities to allow for enough space to carry things on the scooter or in her backpack. Parking became a breeze. Her fuel costs plummeted, as her bike averaged 80 to 85 miles per gallon.

But holding up traffic when she slowed to a putter chugging up Seattle's steep hills made her nervous. Huston recently obtained her motorcycle endorsement. She's now on the hunt for a vintage motorcycle -- something with "more guts."

Huston is transitioning in a sensible way, according to Tom Mehren, publisher of Sound Rider! magazine and a motorcyclist for 40 years. It's best to start with a smaller motorcycle and work your way up, he says. That way, your skills and strength grow in tandem with each new bike's increased speed, performance and weight.

"The nice thing is you can buy them used and you can sell them three to six months later and get just about what you paid for them," Mehren says.

Micone says the social aspects of motorcycling also hold appeal. The Seattle area's motorcycle community is small and inclusive, she says. It includes riders of all ages and backgrounds and lots of meetups.

"I have guys in their 70s [as customers], riding around on their bikes," says Micone. "I've also had a lot of women [come in] who have gone through breast cancer, and they've always wanted to ride a motorcycle, or their dad rode a motorcycle.

"After they've gone through chemo, you can see they've gotten kind of crushed. Then they get on their bike and they're gleaming. They look like a totally different person."

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